Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
From The Second Coming, William Butler Yates
Yes, much truth there, reflective of our times today, though written by Yeats in 1919.
Would that “mere anarchy” could be loosed upon the world. No rulers, rule by all of the people, would be far preferable to the chaos we experience now at the hands of the corporate oligarchy that rules the world today. Things are indeed falling apart, as the human world totters toward inevitable collapse, at the expense of the natural world, the centre that cannot hold.
Humans, as a social species, have forgotten that we are, first and foremost, an animal species, living in a natural universe. The outward trappings of what we optimistically call civilization, from our clothing to our massive technological systems that substitute fossil fuels for animal energy (and intelligence), insulate us from knowledge and understanding of the natural world. We know not what we do, to the detriment of all of the rest of the world we depend upon.
I read we are eight billion humans being now, an unfathomable number, akin to the number of stars in the night sky, for those few who can still see the stars to count them. The vast majority of the febrile billions believe in supreme beings that pull the strings of the masses below, thus abrogating mere humans from responsibility for their destructive activities, wallowing in ignorance of the inextricable interdependence of all life on this planet and all of the resources shared by every living thing.
Our dominant cultural stories tell us to subdue the earth, or, at best, to be good stewards of the lowly plants and animals that we depend on, yet that we abuse and destroy with assumed impunity, not realizing that our well deserved punity lies in wait just around the evolutionary corner. Fortunately for all life, Mother Nature bats last. There’s no escaping our fate, natural laws and processes are unrelenting and unforgiving.
The center that must be held is our own human community in our own bioregion, where we can be intimately familiar with and take ultimate responsibility for our direct impacts on the natural world that enfolds us. We must employ our energy and time here, where it is most effective and where we can directly experience the results of our work.
We must engage in direct democracy, working with local government on a daily basis, not relying on periodic elections of representatives, who may or may not represent us. We must engage with our friends and neighbors, work together to realize our vision of a human society based on embracing the natural world and protecting local habitats and other than human species from encroachment by human population and economic growth.
No civilization has ever escaped the natural cycle of growth and collapse. Our presently dominant social system is no exception to the rule. The future will be less, not more. It’s time we come to terms with this basic fact of our animal citizenship and work to ease the transition already in progress toward a sane and responsible presence among the many co-inhabitants of the natural world.
The City of Santa Cruz has completed a Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) for Segments 8 and 9 of the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission’s 32-mile Coastal Rail Trail Project, an envisioned bicycle and pedestrian trail alongside or replacing the existing unusable railroad tracks from Davenport to Watsonville.
The DEIR is a 966 page document written to California Environmental Quality Act specifications that requires career level dedication to fully understand and to provide meaningful comments at public meetings considering the project. Click HERE for a plain language summary of the DEIR and its conclusions.
Now that you’ve read that:
What does the DEIR mean?
It means that this project would turn this:
The DEIR recognizes that removal of more than 400 trees would have Significant and Unavoidable Impacts on human esthetics, Monarch butterfly habitat, wildlife movement and would violate policies and ordinances protecting trees, including the City of Santa Cruz Heritage Tree Ordinance and County of Santa Cruz Significant Tree Ordinance. But it does not recognize the ecological reality of the effects on the forest through which this industrialized transportation corridor will be built.
A forest is much more than individual trees. All of the green you see in the before photograph above would be killed and removed. What you don’t see is all of animal life of the forest, the mammals, birds, pollinators, predators and prey that make up a thriving community in and around these trees. All of the trees and understory to be killed are intimately interconnected with all of the life in this living ecosystem. To kill and remove these trees and the life that depends on them would be like taking a razor blade and cutting off the skin of your arm from shoulder to wrist.
All of the objectives of this Project and its Alternatives are human centered. The significant, unavoidable and unmitigable effects on the non-human inhabitants of the corridor are minimized and discounted. Even the Trail Only alternative is unnecessarily wide at 26 feet, compared to 16 feet for the Project and other alternatives, requiring the removal of even more trees than the Project itself.
The DEIR clearly demonstrates that this project is poorly conceived, over-engineered, and creates unacceptable impacts to the natural habit and intact ecosystem along the existing corridor. It is undesirable and unnecessary to construct a sterile, urbanized, industrial transportation corridor through beautiful intact habitat to provide a safe and enjoyable pedestrian and bicycle path for county residents. Quite the opposite.
It is the experience of the natural world close at hand, not asphalt, cement and fences, that would make this an attractive transportation alternative to private automobiles and public transit.
Newspaper and web page headlines are filled with lurid descriptions of climate change, forest fires, sea level rise, habitat loss and species extinction. The time is long past to be considering such a massive industrial project that would exacerbate our already unacceptable destruction of the natural world.
This project must go back to the drawing board for reconsideration of a modest, utilitarian bicycle and pedestrianpaththat embraces the natural world as an essential part of its design an implementation.
The City will receive written or verbal comments on the DEIR on Wednesday, October 19, 2022, 5 PM – 7:30 PM via remote teleconference.
Recently I came across an insipid, uninformed television story featuring a video of a man throwing a ball into the ocean at a local beach for his dog in the company of a young sea lion. Here’s the story:
Adorable! Sea lion and dog play fetch in the ocean off Santa Cruz
Monday, September 5, 2022 9:44PM
A Santa Cruz photographer captured heartwarming video of his dog playing with a sea lion in the ocean.
SANTA CRUZ, Calif. (KABC) — A dog in Santa Cruz has made a new best friend in the ocean.
A photographer captured amazing video of a sea lion playing with his dog in the water.
Dave Nelson said he takes his dog Moe (Mokuleia) to the beach almost every morning. Recently they’ve spotted a sea lion watching them from the water, even swimming up and down the beach as Dave and Moe walk along the sand.
Finally on one recent day the sea lion – which he nicknamed Sammy – swam close to the shoreline to say hello.
“Moe dropped her ball (she never ever does that) and she waded out a few feet,” Nelson wrote. “They ended up smelling each other and went nose to nose for a second, I was blown away. It was obvious they liked each other and Sammy even gave a couple soft barks saying hello.”
Dave threw Moe’s ball in the water to see if Sammy would bring it back. Sammy swam as fast as he could – but Moe was just a little quicker, jumping into the waves and retrieving the ball a second before the sea lion got there.
This cutesy story ignores the reality of the interaction between the man’s pet and a wild animal. There are several things wrong with this scene that are ignored by the media description.
The incident occurred in Santa Cruz County, where it is illegal to allow dogs to run off-leash on county beaches.
It is unlawful for the owner of any dog, whether licensed or unlicensed, to permit or allow such dog to be away from the premises of its owner at any time if not under actual physical restraint or control, such as a leash, tether, or in the grasp of a person.
In addition, the incident qualifies as wildlife harassment, under the following definitions:
Level A harassment means any act of pursuit, torment, or annoyance that has the potential to injure a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild.
Level B harassment refers to acts that have the potential to disturb (but not injure) a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild by disrupting behavioral patterns, including, but not limited to, migration, breathing, nursing, breeding, feeding, or sheltering.
Harass in the definition of “take” in the Act (Endangered Species Act of 1973) means an intentional or negligent act or omission which creates the likelihood of injury to wildlife by annoying it to such an extent as to significantly disrupt normal behavioral patterns which include, but are not limited to, breeding, feeding, or sheltering.
Except as otherwise authorized in these regulations or in the Fish and Game Code, no person shall harass, herd or drive any game or nongame bird or mammal or furbearing mammal. For the purposes of this section, harass is defined as an intentional act which disrupts an animal’s normal behavior patterns, which includes, but is not limited to, breeding, feeding or sheltering.
In an attempt to alert local, state and federal wildlife officials, I contacted our local Animal Services Authority (aka Animal Shelter) enforcement officer, County Sheriff, the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary (NOAA) Law Enforcement Officer, and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. I included full contact information for the dog owner gleaned from the media story and from the video itself.
The local Animal Services officer did not reply about the illegal off-leash dog in the video, stating only that “Sea lions are protected under Federal law and the enforcement authority is NOAA. Looks like the closest field office to lodge a complaint is Santa Rosa, California.” Santa Rosa is 132 miles north of the Santa Cruz beach where this happened.
I tried to call the NOAA Sanctuary Law Enforcement Officer and learned that “the office is currently unstaffed.”
I have received no reply from the County Sheriff.
Despite this explicit, unequivocal video evidence of a dog illegally off-leash in the presence of a state and federally protected marine mammal, animal protection authorities seem unable, or unwilling, to enforce existing wildlife protection laws and regulations.
In the current regulatory regime, the federally designated Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary becomes a mere line on a map, as protection regulations in effect are ignored and discounted in the name of administrative expediency and lack of funding.
There is no sanctuary when the laws that create and defend the sanctuary are unenforced.
I recently shifted my diet from vegetarian to vegan, for a variety of reasons I’ll explore here.
I’ve been a vegetarian for the past 22 years or so, eliminating all dead animals from my diet, but still eating butter, eggs, cheese and yoghurt. My rationale was that foods derived from animal products that do not require the killing of animals are ethically acceptable to produce food for humans, who have, after all, evolved as omnivores including at least some consumption of animal based foods.
While this is true, it ignores the harm to animals resulting from modern practices of industrial animal agriculture.
I worked on cattle ranches when I was in high school and early college in the 60s, so I know first hand how beef cattle, sheep, dairy cows and horses are treated, even on small family owned ranches in Nebraska. I followed the full Cowboy(TM) routine, with the straw hat, pointy-toed boots, Levi jeans with a big shiny belt buckle, and pearl-snap shirts. I “punched” cows (notice the language), worked brandings (red hot branding irons, dehorners and blood stopper, castrating knife and “mountain oysters”), pulled calves, fed sorgham laced grain to bulls, drove a 1949 Willeys Jeep, drove a tractor and tossed 80 pound hay bales all summer long. I sat at the groaning breakfast, dinner and supper table, consuming mass quantities of beef, unpasteurized milk, fresh churned butter, dark chocolate cake smothered with thick fresh cream. I fed and milked two dairy cows, ran the milk through the separator and bottled the milk and cream. I fed, trained and rode horses, mucked out their stalls and doctored their ills. I loaded trucks with grain and drove 25 miles into town to the grain elevator, where the grain was rolled and coated with molasses from sorgham that was grown in the field I had harrowed in the spring. I unloaded the heavy, gooey grain into the feed bin with a short handled scoop, and distributed it to a small herd of twenty-some young registered Hereford bulls.
Over the years after I left the cattle ranching community, I gradually reduced the amount of red meat I ate, then all meat other than fish, and finally I stopped eating dead animals altogether. My main concern was my growing understanding of the health problems exacerbated by meat consumption, the health benefits of eating more fruits and vegetables, and the environmental impacts of industrial animal agriculture.
Now, at 73, I can no longer ignore my experience on cattle ranches, nor the knowledge of how industrial animal agriculture affects the animals we consume for food, whether we kill them or not. Eggs come from chickens that, even when kept in “free range” farms, are treated as resources, not as living beings. Dairy products such as milk, butter and cheese come from cows bred, raised and managed as milk producers, not living animals. All large scale animal agriculture includes killing animals when they no longer contribute to the economic viability of the animal agriculture industry.
As if that were not bad enough, animal agriculture requires millions of acres of once natural lands and wildlife habitat to be dedicated to raising feed crops for livestock, accompanied by the herbicides, pesticides, irrigation and fertilizing necessary to support this increasingly mechanized industry. Crop farming demands that fields be separated and protected from the natural world, with its predators, pollinators, and variable weather. Eighty percent of water consumed in this country, including in Santa Cruz County, goes to agriculture. The Oglala Aquifer underlying much of the Great Plains is overdrawn as its water is pumped out to support irrigation of giant industrial mono-crop factory farms, many devoted exclusively to producing livestock feed.
Animal agriculture is a small part of the agriculture industry in Santa Cruz County, but the impacts on us and the bioregion we inhabit are huge. Local agriculture is dominated by factory farms growing produce for export. Fruits and vegetables, along with the increasingly dear water they contain, are shipped thousands of miles around the world. Almost all of the animal products and much of the fruits and vegetables we consume here are shipped in from factory farms hundreds to thousands of miles away.
As I work to defend the natural world and its wild inhabitants from human domination and destruction, I can no longer justify consuming animal derived foods and other products. As human population and rates of consumption grow, our impact on the natural world increases exponentially.
It’s time for us to rethink our relationship with all animals and the natural world we share.
I just finished reading the book Horses Never Lie by Mark Rashid, about his cooperative approach to horse training. I have a history with horses, ever since I first forked a pony as a wee lad in a park in Berwyn, Illinois. Horses were a good part of my life until I left Alaska and moved to the urban environment of the central coast of California.
Mark Rashid shied away from the popular image of horse training, the rough-tough cowboy breaking the fiery stallion, forcing his will on the wild animal. Mark works to understand what the horse is thinking and approaches horses with empathy, understanding and a desire to build a cooperative relationship, not dominance over a wild animal.
As I was reading, I realized that this has been my approach to life since I was little, probably born with it. I’ve always been an observer more than a doer. I’ve always approached horses quietly, humbly, with no expectations, accepting them on their terms, not trying to impose my own will on theirs.
My buddy, Guido (picture above), was a good case in point. He was a Paso Fino, a gaited breed that many people refer to as “high energy” or “a handful.” And indeed he was when he first came to me.
Guido originally belonged to a neighbor who raised Pasos. He had twenty some horses on his farm about a mile east of my then one-horse place north of Fairbanks, Alaska. I learned about Guido when I answered an ad for a horse trailer.
When I stopped by the place and bought the trailer, the owner told me he was moving Outside (the word Alaskans use for every place other than Alaska) and that he was going to have to sell one of his horses who hadn’t been tested for encephalitis in time to meet the state’s requirements for exporting horses. He said he hadn’t had any takers yet, and I told him if he didn’t find some one I would be happy to take him on.
A couple of weeks later, I looked down the lane past the barn and saw the owner leading a beautiful young gelding. That’s how I met Guido. He seemed calm, alert and interested in his surroundings, a beautifully well-groomed, healthy young horse.
Then the owner told me Guido’s history, explaining why no one had bought him so far. Seems he was used as a child’s horse by the previous owner, who hadn’t provided enough supervision and training for the new rider. Guido was smart and he quickly learned how to discourage his new charge by stalling, backing under trees, taking the bit and heading back to the barn.
When the present owner bought him, Guido really had become a handful, difficult to impossible to ride and had broken out of his electric fence several times. The last straw was when he broke away from the owner and galloped full tilt down a paved highway and wound up foundered.
He was walking fine when I first saw him and didn’t exhibit any pain, but his hooves showed laminitis lines. I quizzed the owner about treatment, and he told me the vet had had him on Bute but he was healed now and the farrier had set up his feet and shoes to guard against further recurrence.
I asked him how much he wanted for Guido. He handed me the lead rope and said, “If you want him, he’s yours.”
That was the beginning of my education in horse sense, from the horse’s mouth, as it were.
Guido would stand quietly while I saddled and bridled him, never fuss or puff up when I pulled the cinch tight. He just turned his head at me, with his near eyebrow lifted, saying, “Are you done fooling around yet?”
When I swung aboard, nothing happened … no rodeo, no crow hopping, no slashing hooves or flashing teeth. He just stood there … and stood there … for as long as I sat in the saddle.
No amount of encouragement would get him to move, forward or back, left or right. I could dismount and lead him by the reins as calm as a Sunday stroll in the park, but when I climbed back aboard, he was as solid and unyielding as a Robert E. Lee statue.
As you might imagine, we had some discussion about this, Guido and me.
I finally figured out that Guido had learned to take control of the world he grew up in, so he could discourage the young two-leggeds who made his life miserable, through unremitting Gandhian non-cooperation. He just wouldn’t go, and if forced to go, he would find the fastest way to separate himself from the source of his misery and go on about his way.
So we decided some ground work was in order. I set up a temporary round pen in the turnaround of the road to the barn, and I fitted Guido with a working hackamore and long lines. Long-lining is a good way for a horse and trainer to get to know each other, to ask and answer, to learn about each others needs and desires.
We started out real slow, with Guido refusing to move until I walked up to him and led him by the long reins. Over the next couple of weeks I slowly lengthened the distance on the lead as I made my way into the center of the pen, until he was walking placidly around the pen all by himself.
We turned a remarkable corner one fine fall evening, as I was bridling Guido for more ground work under saddle. As I adjusted the chin strap, Guido raised his nose to my face and took a long intake of breath and then blew out in my face. I could feel the velvety soft skin of his nose on my cheek and his stiff chin whiskers tickled my beard. It startled me at first, but I soon realized we were synchronizing our breathing and sharing our breath with each other. Our worlds had merged with our breath. This became our daily greeting.
Not long after that (Fall was under way with Snow not long to follow) it was time to up our workouts with me in the saddle. By this time I was enjoying our relationship built on ground work and daily exercise walks, so I wasn’t too anxious to return to what had been an uncomfortable confrontation. Guido knew what was coming, of course. He was outside the round pen, facing out to the road, saddled and bridled but with no long lines. As I climbed aboard he turned his head and looked at me with his characteristic skeptical eyebrow lifted. I turned his head back to where we were headed and tapped him gently with my heels. “All right, Guido, let’s go.”
Nothing. He did his noble horse statue impression.
I leaned over the saddle horn and whispered in his ear, “Come on, Guido. It’s time to go.”
I urged him forward once more. He took a step.
I patted his neck and rubbed his itchy spot between his ears, and urged him forward again.
He took another step … and another … and we were walking, calmly, smoothly, with Guido looking around, taking in the country side as it passed by. After that first step, the boreal forest and its roads and trails were ours for the taking.
It would be nice to think that we rode off into the sunset in complete peace and harmony, but the reality was that Guido was a young horse, full of vinegar, not experienced in a world full of boogers jumping out of the bushes. So we had our moments of crow hopping and startled jump-backs, but they were short-lived and easily accommodated. We’d become buddies and we both looked forward to our daily outings.
When I left Alaska for the Lower 48, I had to leave Guido behind. He eventually went to a capable horse woman down the road who was aware of his background and shared my preference for gentle and understanding equine relationships.
Guido taught me a lot about trust, understanding, patience, power and control, lessons that have stayed with me all these years. I can’t help but think that the decline and virtual elimination of horses as an important part of our society and culture has contributed to our declining understanding of non-humans and the resulting destruction of the natural world.
In order to practice democracy, we must be active participants in the day to day conduct of government. County and city commissions, committees and other advisory bodies are essential government organizations that provide avenues for public participation in local government.
Santa Cruz County Code underscores the importance of these public bodies:
“The public’s trust in their government may be sustained only as long as the public remains involved in the deliberations essential to responsible decision-making by that government. The Board of Supervisors wishes to preserve this public trust by openly seeking advice, ideas and recommendations from the citizens of the County.” SC County Code: 2.38.020
Unfortunately, as I struggle to preserve and defend what’s left of the natural world in Our Fair County, I increasingly encounter local government staff and elected representatives who are either unaware of the importance of public participation, or who choose to limit public participation in the name of expediency and efficiency.
The Ralph M. Brown Act, California Government Code Sec. 54950-54963, is one of the most important, and one of the most widely misunderstood, documents in California state, county and municipal governments governing conduct in meetings of public bodies.
54950. In enacting this chapter, the Legislature finds and declares that the public commissions, boards and councils and the other public agencies in this State exist to aid in the conduct of the people’s business. It is the intent of the law that their actions be taken openly and that their deliberations be conducted openly. The people of this State do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies which serve them. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments they have created.
Brown Act (Gov. Code Sec. 54950-54963)
The intent of the Brown Act is to insure that governmental bodies conduct their business in the full light of the public’s day, with open doors, publicly accessible meetings, and documented records of the governments’ business.
Unfortunately, not all members of advisory bodies and government staff are aware of governing legislation, such as the Brown Act, county and municipal codes, and advisory bodies’ own by-laws, that inform their conduct. This situation leaves the body open to manipulation and misdirection by staff appointed to support and serve them, whether intentional or not.
The result has been the morphing of some of these bodies from advisory and decision-making entities into rubber stamps for staff initiated programs and policies. Limitations on public participation in advisory body meetings stills the public’s voice and discourages the public’s duty to monitor and comment on the course of government activities.
For example, the County Department of Parks, Open Space and Cultural Services provides staff support to the County Parks and Recreation Commission, as directed by County Code:
2.70.040 Organization and procedures.
(B) Staff Support. The Department of Parks, Open Space, and Cultural Services shall provide staff support for the Commission. The Director of the Department, or their designated representative, shall serve as the Administrative Secretary to the Commission and shall receive copies of all minutes, reports and recommendations submitted to the Board of Supervisors by the Commission.
Parks Department staff have gone beyond their legislated duties and have taken over the preparation of the Parks and Recreation Commission agendas. Among other unilateral changes, they have identified agenda items as Action Items or Information Items, even though there is nothing in County Code, the Commission’s By-Laws or the Brown Act that make this distinction. Furthermore, staff has unilaterally dictated, without consultation with Parks and Recreation Commissioners, that Commissioners may not make a motion on Information agenda items, and that public participation in Commission meetings be limited to Oral Communications at the beginning of the meeting and only on identified Action Items during the remainder of the meeting.
These limitations on public participation in Commission meetings are not found in County Code or the Commission’s By-laws, and they are directly contradictory to Section54954.3 of the Brown Act:
54954.3 (a) Every agenda for regular meetings shall provide an opportunity for members of the public to directly address the legislative body on any item of interest to the public, before or during the legislative body’s consideration of the item, that is within the subject matter jurisdiction of the legislative body … Every notice for a special meeting shall provide an opportunity for members of the public to directly address the legislative body concerning any item that has been described in the notice for the meeting before or during consideration of that item.
(c) The legislative body of a local agency shall not prohibit public criticism of the policies, procedures, programs, or services of the agency, or of the acts or omissions of the legislative body. Nothing in this subdivision shall confer any privilege or protection for expression beyond that otherwise provided by law.
The County Board of Supervisors, as a body, due to lack of oversight, has allowed many of their commissions to drift from their original brief. The absence of oversight from the Board of Supervisors and municipalities has created disparities in the conduct of advisory bodies that are confusing to the public attempting to participate in the proceedings. In the interest of participatory democracy, I urge the Board of Supervisors to develop a handbook for commissioners and committee members, and support staff, that clearly delineates member and staff duties and responsibilities, public participation in meetings, and the state, county and municipal legislation that codify local government advisory body actions.
While the County Board of Supervisors and the city councils are ultimately responsible for the advisory bodies they have created, it is up to the citizenry to impress upon local government that advisory body meetings are to be conducted according to established state, county and municipal codes, and that public participation in county government must not be limited by staff fiat.
“There can be no daily democracy without daily citizenship.” — Ralph Nader
The proponents of the above named structure have engaged in a six-year tirade of trammeled arguments in support of the City of Santa Cruz plan to demo the 50+ year old Downtown Public Library building in favor of building a modernistic 21st Century glass and steel erection several blocks away. Though touting a “Green Building” result, they have continually ignored the environmental consequences of destroying a perfectly usable building and hauling it off to the dump. Then, to top that ringer, they plan to build an architect’s wet dream that will consume far more cement, steel, glass, wood and other miscellaneous products and produce tons of new atmospheric CO2 in the process of mining, manufacture, transportation and construction.
And what will happen to this gleaming folly after the next 50 years?
The powers-that-would-be are so nervous about those of us questioning the project, with statistics, data, scientific studies and a citizen’s initiative, they have resorted to the propagandistic “nudge-nudge, wink-wink” dodge of changing the name of the project several times as its fallacies were pointed out to them.
Do they really think the public is so naive and unaware that an architectural funny nose and glasses and tricksy nicknames will fool us into thinking they’re following the will of the people and their own avowed environmental pretensions?
Discussing limits to human population growth is always fraught with controversy and misunderstanding. In 2004, the Sierra Club fractured over disagreements on population control policies, and even today maintains an anti-population control stance, based on a misconstrued “Overpopulation Myth”. Their interpretation, shared by many so-called “Progessives” is that patterns of human consumption of natural resources, not absolute human numbers, are responsible for climate change and other environmental ills.
Nevertheless, no matter how low one reduces one’s personal consumption, population growth trumps reduction in per capita consumption. 7 billion times 10 is the same as 10 billion times 7. Reducing human impacts on the natural world requires both consumption reduction AND limits to population growth.
While the rate of human population growth is slowly decreasing in some countries, of necessity, overall human population is still increasing and we are still too many to be supported on this planet. We must reduce our numbers considerably and achieve zero population growth overall at a sustainable total population.
The 70s Zero Population Growth slogan was “Stop at Two”. That was then. Now we have to look at a global population goal of “Stop at One”, real replacement level. That means each individual can be responsible for only one child, no matter how many serial relationships one is involved in. We each get to bring one new life into this world.
Getting from here to there is extremely difficult, since humans have the same reproductive imperative as any other species. It’s natural for us to want children, and until recently, having large families was important for economic success and support for elderly or infirm parents.
The argument that population limits are racist ignores the fact that there are too many humans on this planet in general, regardless of how they are distributed across its surface. Population limits are necessary everywhere, not in some countries but not others. Reduced resource consumption is needed everywhere, by everyone, not in some societies but not others.
Beyond unsustainable consumption, human population growth creates a myriad of additional social problems. In every society there are people who do bad things, people who take advantage of others, people who seek power and control over others, people who have mental problems, people with drug addictions, people who never learned to get along with others. In the bell curve of human diversity, a percentage of the people in any society ignore local morals and ethics, engage in criminal behaviors or lack necessary medical or psychological professional care.
One percent of one million is 100,000. One percent of 10 million is one million. As population increases the total number of antisocial individuals increases, creating more and more problems for local governments and residents.
The social and environmental problems we encounter here in Our Fair County are the result of rapidly increasing population and economic growth over the past twenty years that I’ve lived here, resulting in increasing homelessness, petty crime, assault and murder, and a multiplicity of sirens splitting the air throughout the day and night. Add to that traffic congestion, resource limitations, and increasing government size and complexity, as we build a society that cannot continue on this course indefinitely.
What to do?
Education: The stigma of population limits must be removed from the minds of residents, voters and government officials. Residents must become aware of the consequences of unlimited growth on our communities and on the natural world upon which we depend. Principles of sufficiency, humility and conservation must be taught to children and adults at all economic and social levels.
Government reform: Government incentives and encouragement for population and economic growth must end.
Politics: We must encourage and support candidates for City Councils and County Board of Supervisors who understand the degrowth imperative and are willing and able to stand up against city and county staff pushing for more and more population and economic growth.
Localization: Political and economic power must be dispersed throughout the populace, out of the centralized hands of politicians and economists meeting behind closed doors. Neighborhood and avocational assemblies must become meaningful, legitimate avenues for public participation in local government, no longer perfunctory rubber stamps to ratify foregone decisions.
Finally, bioregionalism (See HERE, HERE and HERE) must become the primary principle for all political, economic and environmental decisions, from neighborhoods to city and county governments. It is only at the regional level, defined by our unique environments, that truly sustainable government and personal decisions and plans can made and implemented.
If we are to build and maintain a sustainable life here in this county/bioregion, we must not violate the basic natural principles of ecology, biology and geology that allow all life everywhere to continue.
“Degrowth emphasizes the need to reduce global consumption and production … and advocates a socially just and ecologically sustainable society with social and environmental well-being replacing GDP as the indicator of prosperity.”
Here in Our Fair County, we are deeply mired in the consumer growth economy. Garages are rarely used to store cars, with piles of purchases pushing up the rafters with stuff that won’t fit in the house. Store shelves groan under eleventy-bazillion varieties of things that we only need one of, if any. Advertising pervades every medium, exhorting the purchase of things and services we would never have thought of buying had they not been thrust at us unbidden.
The myth of necessary and inevitable economic and human population growth overwhelms our local culture. Our county and city governments are based on the premise of unlimited growth. Our state government passes laws demanding that counties and cities plan for growth with no consideration for local resource limitations, geographical realities or unique histories and cultures.
The cost of housing is increasing astronomically, as home owners and landlords demand sale prices and rent as high as the market will bear, such that only rich people who don’t already live here can afford to live here. Hundreds of people roam unhoused in Our Fair County, unable to afford even a tiny apartment in a real estate industry gone mad with greed.
There are many reasons why the economy of the United States, and most of the rest of the world, is dominated by the mythology of perpetual growth. The Great Simplification video linked above explains the evolutionary and cultural reasons why we humans hoard beyond any semblance of need.
The question is, how to get off this out-of-control treadmill before it collapse in its own inevitability, taking us, and much of the natural world down with it?
IMPACT = POPULATION X CONSUMPTION
There are two ways we can reduce our collective destruction of the natural world:
Reduce per capita consumption
Reduce human population growth
Reduce Personal Consumption
Since most everything in our world encourages us to consume to profligacy, to reduce consumption we must relearn how to live with less, rather than learning to live with more. Here’s a few suggestions. We may not each do all of these things, but we can each do something:
Limit exposure to advertising in popular mass media – broadcast television and radio, newspapers and magazines. Install an ad blocker on computers and smart (sic) phones.
Enjoy walking, bicycling or public transit rather than sitting in a car; travel by train in luxery rather than packed like sardines in an airplane.
Enjoy living locally so you don’t need a vacation. Learn about the natural world that surrounds you and your home.
Learn a skill, profession or craft and engage in meaningful work to produce needed goods and services. Learn how things work, how to diagnose problems and how to fix them.
Learn to build and maintain your own housing that creates its own energy, using local and recycled materials.
Participate in local government, in your neighborhood, community, county and state. Let your ideals and principles spread into your community. Spread your joy in living simply.
Degrowth will not only allow our lives to be simpler and more enjoyable, it will go a long way to solving our current problems of high costs of housing, transportation and energy. It will reduce roadway congestion and encourage health and well-being, and reduce human impacts on what little is left of the natural world.
So what are we waiting for? Let’s start degrowing NOW!
Up next on We Live in the Natural World: Reduce Population Hereabouts.
We live in a discrete bioregion that is geographically constrained by Monterey Bay to the south and Santa Cruz Mountains to north. Our potable water comes largely from surface streams via limited storage reservoirs, with no option to import water from elsewhere. We have no airport, no railroad, and only two highways in and out of the county. We have extensive agricultural lands, irrigated largely from wells subject to overdraft and salt water intrusion. Agriculture in the county is dominated by the export of water intensive produce.
Despite these limitations we have a constantly growing human population, in communities subject to high demands for housing, resulting in a housing supply unaffordable for all but the most affluent buyers and renters. This, in part, has resulted in an extensive homeless population, with severe repercussions for our social and natural environment.
The local economy is traditionally based on tourism, dating from the 1800s, when tourists arrived by train. The construction of a paved highway to the greater Bay Area to the north, resulted in ever increasing private automobile traffic through the county, further exacerbated by the construction of a multi-lane freeway. Automobile culture quickly took over urban areas, resulting in suburban sprawl, business flight from downtown commercial areas to suburban malls, and increased private automobile commuting to high paying jobs “over the hill” in San Jose and San Francisco.
It’s increasingly evident that the current economic and political system in Our Fair County is dysfunctional, environmentally destructive and ultimately unsustainable. Economic and population growth cannot indefinitely continue in a constrained bioregion of finite resources. Potable water is the limiting factor to growth, a limit that cannot be violated. Though increased per capita efficiency can lower demand temporarily, population growth inevitably trumps per capita demand.
As a result, we’re locked into a one-way trip to unsustainability and societal collapse.
“If something cannot go on forever, it will stop.”
Herbert Stein, What I Think: Essays on Economics, Politics, & Life
More accurately, I would say, “If something cannot go on forever, it will peter out.”
Given that our current economic and political system is unsustainable in Our Fair Bioregion, how to we get from here:
… to here?
And if we don’t, then what?
In my next post, I’ll review a remarkable video that explains how humans got to this point in our evolution, and I’ll explore the implications of our unsustainable dominant culture for the future of Homo sapiens, and all other species.